Saturday, February 20, 2021

A Game of What-if Pt 1

 It has always been on my mind, the familial bond between Chainmail and D&D. I have always been entranced by the OSR titles that explore that DNA. I have pondered my own take on how to meld the two, even to the point of devising my own half-baked attempt. The thing, though, is this: I have always looked at it from a standing start. In other words, I have approached the exercise as if D&D hadn't been written. Alternatively, I have approached it with more of a piece-meal attitude, intent on replacing certain aspects, such as the alternative combat system with that from Chainmail. Yet, in either event, in my mind, my starting point was that whatever I had was the origin point. So, in my design space, my conceit was that I was trying to merge the Chainmail combat system with D&D, and pretend that was the way it was when I opened the box.

I know that sounds weird. It would be difficult for me to express the influence that nostalgia has on my gaming. It informs so much of my gaming, from ordering old Avalon Hill games off Ebay, to how I approach developing ideas for D&D. I want to put my mind in 1976 and approach D&D from there. It may sound delusional at best, or a misguided effort doomed from inception at worst. But it's my time spent with my hobby, and I pursue it for relaxation. If spending some time in 1976 will relax me and bring me some edification, then it was well-spent.

This is intended to be a design log of yet another effort to reconcile Chainmail with D&D. This time is different though. This may be nuanced to the point of nothing more than semantics. It may be putting too fine of a point on it, but this time really is different. The perspective I am approaching from is this:

I've played Chainmail, even fighting battles with the fantasy supplement. Now, it's sometime in 1975 and I've gotten my hands on D&D. I love the ideas and potential I see in it, but I'm not thrilled with how it abandons so much of Chainmail. So, this design log will be all about how I take the finished product of D&D and retool aspects so that they draw more from Chainmail, rather than all-new systems created whole cloth.

In future posts I intend to explore the following:


  • Bring Fighting-Men more inline with the Heroes and Superheroes of Chainmail
  • Give Magic Users more of the "fire at will" aspect of Chainmail wizards, while keeping Vancian casting, because it is flavorful and keeps magic users from dominating the campaign
  • Examine Clerics more as members of militant religious orders, rather than priests.
  • Thieves will be based more on the GPNL thief, which went on to inspire the Greyhawk thief.


  • Reconcile the three combat subsystems into a seamless, integrated whole


  • Crack the "code" of the Fantasy Combat Table in order to plug "new" creatures  from M&T into the system.


  • Reconcile magic swords and armor with the D&D classes and Chainmail combat system.

It is my desire to divorce specific experience I have from my thinking on this project. In other words, there won't be any ascending AC, stat-based saves, or even single save numbers. I will only consider including things that were available as of my (admittedly arbitrary) start date. That will probably include Greyhaw, Strategic Review, and possibly Blackmoor and maybe early issues of the Dragon. That doesn't mean that anything from them will be included, I'll just consider them available.

So, there it is, the foundational philosophy of this project. As always, comments, advise, thoughts, and encouragement are always welcomed.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Zero to Hero

 Welcome to 2021.

So, I had an epiphany. I realized one of the reasons I like OD&D and the Z2H model. If you reference my last post, it is about the part of me that enjoys a more heroic playstyle right out of the gate. It also touches on how 4e supports such a game.

It occurs to me that OD&D functions similarly in its design space, which is the zero-to-hero model. The thing about it, though, that was at the focal point of my epiphany, is that beginning PCs are pretty much common folk. They don't have powers or hit point kickers. Magic users can't cast cantrips at-will. Clerics don't even have spells at 1st level. Fighters have the same chance to-hit as everyone else at 1st level. These are common people who have chosen, or had thrust upon them, a life of adventure.

They may be looked upon with a healthy dose of distrust by their fellow commoners. Yet, by the time they've reached 3rd level or so, the common folk of their home area are starting to look to them to solve dangerous problems. The magic-user can conjure illusions, become invisible, read minds, or bind opponents in a mass of webs. The cleric can cure wounds with a touch and protect himself or others from evil. He can also drive away skeletons and zombies with a command. Fighters can endure longer in combat than normal men, biding their time to land that telling blow. Fighters at this level are also likely outfitted with enchanted armor and/or weapons.

Yet, I believe, that whether at 1st level or higher, they are looked upon with a mixture of awe and envy by their fellow commoners. The barkeep knows that the magic-user could have been him, if only things had been different. The blacksmith knows it could have been him with the gleaming enchanted armor and impossibly sharp magic sword, if only he'd apprenticed to the wandering mercenary.

They all started from the same place. The PCs weren't touched by destiny or singled out by fate. At least not yet. Those proclamations are the province of historians and biographers. In the beginning they are all cut from the same clothe. Far more die in the vain attempt at fame and glory than attain such status.

I think that in a way that is what I find so appealing about this style. I can identify with it. I'm nobody special. If I statted myself out, I wouldn't have a single bonus. But. . . if I could find a sword or a cranky old man that knows a spell or two, I could one day be the guy that saves the village and is everybody's hero. Even if it is just for a day.


Monday, October 5, 2020

An Oversight Addressed

 Good morning,

I realized there is a gaping hole in my coverage. I've never really talked about D&D 4e. I mentioned it in a post on 5e, but that's it. Now, this may seem perfectly natural, given my many poetical waxings on old school nostalgia. D&D 4e is widely regarded as the least D&D of all additions, which by extension should leave it far outside the orbit of old school aficionados. 

I want to go on record here and now as saying, I love 4e. Take that assertion with my usual caveat: I do not have a play group, either f2f or online, so I don't actively participate in any 4e games. Perhaps I would be more accurate in saying that I love how it reads and inspires my imagination.

I have far often been frustrated by characters, both my NPCs and PCs, that aren't supported by mechanics. Put down the torches and pitchforks. I know I'm not the only one that has played a fighter that is conceived of as being this hard-hitting northman with a big axe and bigger attitude. Yet, when the dice hit the table, the thief has a better damage output. Nobody's fault, just the way the dice fall. The thief's player is using a long sword and consistently rolls 7s and 8s for damage while I roll 3s and 4s mostly.

I realize that there is more to being the badass fighter in the party than meting out damage. The fighter has more hit points (or should) and can wear heavier armor. I know those are meaningful benefits, but damnit, fighters should be killing things, not functioning as party meat shields.

So, that is one thing I really like. The powers structure makes your character not simply occupy his niche, he OWNS that niche.

And about the powers mechanic: I love how it makes wizards so much more like their Chainmail progenitors. In Chainmail wizards could become invisible at will and throw either Fireball or Lightning Bolt every turn. BAM! 

Sometimes my mood is on low powered, zero-to-hero stuff. I still love that style and it still has a place in my gamespace. Sometimes, though, I want something more heroic, where the characters are mechanically destined for greatness and where the villains are more than dirt-eating cultists.

One of the things that I love about Chainmail that has never translated to well to D&D is the divide between the mundane and the heroic. In the Chainmail fantasy supplement, a character can't even engage with a true monster, like an ogre, unless they have heroic status. This sort of bakes the role of adventurers in society right into the rules. No version of D&D really captures this. I think, though, that the power structure and mechanics of 4e gives PCs a status and capability far beyond the common inhabitants of the campaign world and could simulate that commoner/hero dichotomy.

That's a smattering of what I like about 4e, at least conceptually.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Subtle Genius

I have long been enamored of the d6 HD/d6 weapon damage paradigm. It essentially models the notion that death is always one good damage roll away. Unless, of course, we're talking about higher level characters. Another windmill I have long tilted at is the, in my opinion, lowly state of the fighter. Judging by XP requirements (in the LBB) , fighters should be very stiff competition, ability-wise. Yet, their only benefit that happens automatically is hit points. The other is use of magic swords, which is dependent upon finding a magic sword (of the appropriate alignment).

If you look at Chainmail, you can see that Heroes are forces in a fight, and Superheroes are wrecking balls. They attack as 4 and 8 figures, respectively, against "normal" opponents. Which essentially means that they attack 4 or 8 times against 1HD opponents using the Alternative system. Additionally, under Chainmail, they were considered Fantastic Creatures, and were essentially immune to attack from less than 4 "normal" figures. It's important to note that in Fantastic Combat, a "hit" equals killed.

That is something I have long sought to bring into my D&D, the "lost" abilities of the fighter vs "normal" types. Just giving them multiple attacks didn't fully satisfy, so I kept tinkering and thinking.

At this point, it seems appropriate to mention, I have always been enamored of the elegant simplicity of the LBBs and it is there that I spend most of my time. I have disdained, in my later years at least, such high-falootin' ideas as variable HD and damage. Then, the other day, the subtle genius of E. Gary Gygax finally hit me (again).

If most "normal" types do d6 damage, and a fighter has d8 HP (per Greyhawk), then "normal" types will have to gang up on a Hero to take him down in one round anyway. Just like in Chainmail. And while they are ganged up on him, he'll be attacking them four times per round, or more. When that realization sunk in, I felt like a weight had been lifted.

Sometimes I forget that D&D combat is all about modelling outcomes. It is all about determining who wins the fight. It isn't concerned with who wins individual rounds, that sort of thing exists primarily for entertainment. D&D is about who wins the fight. I'm no statistician, but I have the feeling that the outcome of 4 "normals" ganging up on a Hero in Chainmail, would come pretty close to the outcome of 4 "normals" ganging up on a 4th level fighter from Greyhawk.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Skill Resolution in Classic Traveller


The Foundational Elements
  • All skills are tied to an attribute
  • Some skills are usable untrained, some are not
  • No DMs based on skill levels

The Basics
  • If Skilled Roll 2D under relevant attribute
  • If Unskilled Roll 3D under relevant attribute

The Rest
  • If Skilled at least one level, may attempt skill a number of times equal to level
  • If Skilled at zero level (Skill-0) roll 2D under, with a DM-1

Example: Delmar O'Donnell is the chief mechanic on a ship hurtling toward a certain doom following an encounter with an Oolatran corvetter. Delmar is a pretty fair mechanic (Engineer-2), and smart as a whip besides (INT B). Thus, he can make two attempts, rolling 11 or less, to affect the necessary repairs to his ship's drive.

Note: There may be instances where multiple rolls may be attempted in order to determine a degree of success, or wherein a certain number of successes may be required. These cases will be determined by the referee. It may also be possible to make matters worse by attempting to further one's success. This is the Leave Well Enough Alone rule.

I think covers it. Any comments would be appreciated. If anyone actually uses this, I would love to hear how it runs.
N.B. I conceived this for Classic Traveller (including Cepheus Engine). I'm not entirely sure how it might work with other editions/iterations. I would be very curious to learn if anyone uses it thus.